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Lawmakers advance bill on 3-year degrees, community college reverse transfers

Lawmakers advance 3-year degree legislation

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Ivy Tech Community College administrators on Wednesday said a bill in the legislature could make associate’s degrees an option for more students who find themselves unable to complete a four-year program.

Ivy Tech, Indiana’s statewide community college system, has an agreement known as a reverse transfer with several four-year institutions, including all of Indiana’s public four-year universities. Under the program, students who complete at least 75 credit hours at a four-year institution can transfer the credits to Ivy Tech in order to receive an associate’s degree. Vincennes University has a similar program.

Mary Jane Michalak, Ivy Tech’s vice president of legal and public affairs, said, so far, the agreement has existed solely as a memorandum of understanding among the colleges and universities.

A bill in the legislature would codify into state law Ivy Tech and Vincennes University’s reverse transfer agreements with in-state public institutions.

“The memorandum of understanding is an agreement among the institutions, but changes in administration could affect that in the future, so the Commission for Higher Education, I believe, wanted to ensure that this process, because it works well and because it’s a benefit to students, can continue to exist in the future,” she said.

Michalak said it’s not uncommon for students to use the reverse transfer program. She said about 370 students did so during the 2021-2022 academic year. She said students might decide to reverse transfer because they decide a four-year institution isn’t right for them or because something happens in their life that prevents them from finishing their degree. If that happens, she said getting an associate’s degree ensures they still have a completed college degree that will satisfy many employers’ requirements.

“Even if students have to stop for some reason, they are more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree once they earn an associate degree,” she said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Tuesday.

Besides the reverse transfer language, the measure also requires Indiana’s public four-year institutions — the Indiana and Purdue university systems plus Ball State, Indiana State and the University of Southern Indiana — to offer at least one three-year bachelor’s degree beginning with the 2025-2026 academic year.

Bill author Sen. Jean Leising, a Republican from Oldenburg, said offering three-year degrees could save students money.

A small number of universities throughout the country offer three-year degrees, including Grace College in Kosciusko County. Mark Pohl, Grace College’s vice president of enrollment management, said the three-year option has proven popular with students since the college first offered it in 2011, with about one-third of students now choosing to complete their degrees in three years. Pohl said students do this through a combination of longer, more intensive classes during the fall and spring semesters coupled with online summer courses.

“It’s a huge financial savings, and not only on the front end but on the back end,” Pohl said. “They’re able to earn one year of income in that fourth year in their future career, so it gets them out in their career sooner.”

The bill still has to go through the House. Lawmakers on Wednesday were on a midsession break. They will return to the Statehouse on Monday.